The alarm beckons, but I ignore it. Then as luck would have it, I wake up and look over to notice that I need to get to work. I curse my roommate for drinking the coffee that I had on a time brew, and then I make that groggy, weekend walk to the Happy Falafel. I arrive at about half past nine. As usual, I’m early, the first one here and likely the last to go. I use my extra half hour wisely. I eat a bagel from the Little Shop and fire up the grill and fryer so they will be good and hot by the time 11 o’clock rolls around and we flip the sign around to “OPEN.” Shawn comes in at ten; he is one of the falafel shop’s hidden treasures, an experienced cook who, due to circumstance, is working at your neighborhood falafel shop. He wouldn’t work anywhere else though. He, like me, is a falafeler through and through. Being like me, a foodie without pretensions, we both appreciate an atmosphere so casual that it can only be aptly described as “laid-back,” and the satisfaction of putting out a quality product. We get right down to it. I mix the freshly ground, raw falafel and form it into tight little balls in neat regimented rows. The mix covers my hands, and by the time I’m done, has begun to dry a bit on my scooping hand. My balling hand stays moist and easier to wash. Shawn finishes his coffee and then slices fresh veggies for the day, simultaneously cooking off some fresh chicken to get us stocked for the morning. We try to get the place looking nice for our customers before the owner, Greg, comes in. I do my best to remember to keep the lobby clean and stocked by our 11 o’clock opening, but usually Greg needs to dot at least one of my “i’s.” He asks if we need any supplies for the restaurant. Today, it’s just cucumbers so I can make our scratch tzatziki sauce. At 11 o’clock the real fun begins, we open our doors and wait. Shawn and I begin jockeying for position on the XM radio dial. This war of attrition will determine if our customers will be forced to listen to more reggae or new wave, while they try to finish those last few fries. It starts slow and I alternate between watching the door for customers and watching the muted football game on the overhead television. Around 20 minutes later, we get our first customer. He is a familiar face, a teacher who comes in all the time for a falafel and fries. This Sunday he seems particularly relaxed; thirty screaming clay minds are the furthest thing from his thoughts. He comes because he loves falafel, and being a teacher, he gets half off on his sandwich. He watches the game for a while, and then watches us leisurely prepare his simple order (sometimes while watching the game ourselves!). We place his sandwich in a bag, because he asked for it to-go and tell him to take it easy. He waves his sandwich-clenching hand back at us and thanks us for a job well-done. Slowly customers trickle in until we hit a 12:30 crescendo, and the line hits the door. I take orders, wishing that the line will just wait so I can help Shawn and Margaux (Greg’s daughter) make the rapidly accumulating tickets. They have it handled though, and as quickly as I take orders, they send them out. When it seems like the line is thinning out, and I will be off the hook soon, disaster strikes. A couple of our pocket pitas rip on the line, making them unsuitable for falafel sandwiches. Margaux quickly puts more on the grill to heat up, but our synchronicity is shot in that instant. My hopes for a trouble-free lunch seem to be lost. As soon as I can get off of the register, I try to help out on the line. We get the food out expediently, and no one is hurt.
The lunch slows down and we get caught up on prep work until 2:45, only fifteen minutes before we close on Sundays. We start to think about closing, when some stragglers come in to get some last minute food. We continue serving until the last person has gotten their food, even though it is now past 3:00 p.m. We turn up the music and close the restaurant. We count the money, make sure everything is clean and stocked and change the oil in the fryer. My arms strain to get the hot cauldron of spent veggie oil into the recycling container, only spurred on by hopes of soon going home. Around 4 o’clock, we are done. I drink one last iced tea, spiked with an Emer-gen-C (part of the Happy Falafel health plan). I lock the door on the way out, and wonder if I remembered to turn off the grill as I walk home smelling of garlic.
Trevor Hagstrom is a 22 year old student studying at SOU, who also cooks at Happy Falafel.